It is Macmillan Cancer Support’s ambition to reach everyone in the UK who is diagnosed with the disease and to make their lives better – “in however small or large way” – through its services.
The charity, one of the UK’s largest, is best known for its Macmillan nurses, trained and funded to give palliative care to cancer patients in hospitals across the country.
But another important service is to provide patients with information – information about the various forms of cancer, about treatments, about financial support available to sufferers and more besides.
“Our information helps patients and their families understand what’s happening to them,” explains Steven Wibberley, the charity’s head of information and financial support. “It empowers people to make decisions and to improve their health.”
This information is usually authored by Macmillan’s own team of nurses and editors, and is regularly checked over by clinicians and patients. “Keeping our information up to date can be challenging, because of the complexity of the issues and the fact that science and medicine are constantly changing,” says Wibberley. “But it’s vital that our information can be trusted.”
In the past, this information was distributed primarily through pamphlets at hospitals, at dedicated drop-in centres or on the charity’s ‘information buses’ that travel the country. More recently, of course, the web has become an invaluable tool for getting information out to the people who need it.
Maintaining a consistently high standard of quality across channels ranging from face-to-face meetings and telephone helplines to mobile websites is a challenge, explains Wibberley. Until recently, the charity would often spend time rewriting its materials for different channels, wasting resources and endangering consistency.
But it is now in the process of resolving that issue by upgrading its content management system, using software from UK company SDL. The new system provides a much better structure for the content, Wibberley says, allowing the charity to plan its use across the various channels in a more strategic fashion.
“It means that we can identify what type of content is appropriate for what type of audience, and present it to them in the most appropriate channel,” he explains.
“It makes it all more flexible, increases access to our content and allows us to maintain the quality as much as possible.”
The technology will aid Macmillan as it seeks to disseminate information not only through its own channels, but through third parties too, explains Wibberley. “What we’re funded to do is make the information available as widely as possible, and that may well mean going through trusted partners.”
One example of this is Macmillan’s work with NHS Choices, the national healthcare information website, on what are known as “information prescriptions”.
An information prescription is a document containing useful information that is tailored to a given patient based on their stage of illness and treatment. It is compiled online by a clinician or nurse using the NHS Choices website, and is emailed or printed out for the patient.
Macmillan is working with the Department of Health to make sure that the information prescriptions site is “populated with high-quality information”, explains Wibberley. This often means splitting its content into small chunks so the prescription can be precisely tailored to a patient’s needs.
The principal aim of all this is, of course, to improve the health and wellbeing of cancer sufferers. But Macmillan also has a hypothesis – being researched by the UK government’s Office for Public Management – that good patient information makes the NHS more cost effective.
“Our hypothesis is that when people have the information they need, people use NHS services better and are able to look after themselves better,” explains Wibberley. “They are able to identify if something’s going wrong, and if they are worried about their cancer recurring then they know who to contact.
“We think that in the long term our information has a positive financial impact on the NHS,” he says.